Ash Wednesday (Year A)
“And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Matthew 6:4b
Lent begins. 40 days to pray, fast and grow in charity. We need this time each year to step back and reexamine our lives, to turn away from our sins and to grow in the virtues God so deeply desires to bestow upon us. The 40 days of Lent are to be an imitation of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert. In fact, we are called not only to “imitate” Jesus’ time in the desert, we are called to live this time with Him, in Him and through Him.
Jesus did not personally need to spend 40 days of fasting and prayer in the desert so as to obtain a deeper holiness. He is Holiness Itself! He is the Holy One of God. He is Perfection. He is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity. He is God. But Jesus entered into the desert to fast and pray so as to invite us to join Him and to receive the transforming qualities He manifested in His human nature as He endured the suffering of those 40 days. Are you ready for your 40 days in the desert with our Lord?
While in the desert, Jesus manifested every perfection within His human nature. And although no one saw this but the Father in Heaven, His time in the desert was abundantly fruitful for the human race. It was abundantly fruitful for each one of us.
The “desert” we are called to enter is one that is hidden from the eyes of those around us but is visible to the Father in Heaven. It’s “hidden” in that our growth in virtue is not done for vainglory, for selfish recognition, or to obtain worldly praise. The 40 day desert we must enter is one that transforms us by drawing us to deeper prayer, detachment from anything not of God, and fills us with love of those we encounter every day.
During these 40 days, we must pray. Properly speaking, prayer means we communicate with God on an interior level. We do more than attend Mass or speak prayers aloud. Prayer is first and foremost a secret and interior communication with God. We speak, but more than that, we listen, hear, understand and respond. Without all four of these qualities, prayer is not prayer. It’s not “communication.” It’s only us talking to ourselves.
During these 40 days, we must fast. Especially in our day and age, our five senses are overwhelmed with activity and noise. Our eyes and ears are often dazzled by TV, radio, computers, etc. Our taste buds are constantly satiated with fine foods, sweets and comfort foods, often to excess. Our five senses need a break from the bombardment of the delights of the world so as to turn to the deeper delights of a life of union with God.
During these 40 days, we must give. Greed often takes hold of us without us even realizing the extent of its grip. We want this and that. We consume more and more material things. And we do so because we seek satisfaction from the world. We need to detach from all that distracts us from God, and generosity is one of the best ways to achieve this detachment.
Reflect, today, upon these three simple words: pray, fast and give. Seek to live these qualities in a hidden way known only to God this Lent. If you do so, the Lord will begin to do greater wonders in your life than you may currently realize are possible. He will free you from the selfishness that often binds us and will enable you to love Him and others on a whole new level.
Lord, I give myself to You this Lent. I freely choose to enter into the desert of these 40 days and choose to pray, fast and give of myself to an extent I have never done before. I pray that this Lent will be a time in which I am transformed interiorly by You. Set me free, dear Lord, from all that keeps me from loving You and others with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.
Being Set Free for Love
Ash Wednesday (Year C)
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned. Psalm 51
Mercy. That’s what it’s all about. As we begin Lent, a great place to start is with a better understanding of mercy.
Often when we think about Lent, we think of it with a sort of dread. “I have to give something up,” we often think. But if that is our thought then we are missing the point. Do I “have to” give something up? Well, yes and no. It’s true that God wills this and has spoken this practice of self-denial and self-discipline to us through His Church. That is true. But it’s much more of an invitation to grace than the imposition of a burden.
Giving something up is really all about entering into God’s abundant mercy on a deeper level. It’s about being freed from all that binds us and it helps us experience the new life we so deeply seek. Giving something up could refer to something as simple as fasting from a food or drink. Or, it can be any intentional act that requires a certain self-denial. But this is good! Why? Because it strengthens us in our spirit and our will. It strengthens us to be more resolved to say yes to God on that complete level.
So often in life we are controlled by our emotions and desires. We have an impulse for this or that or to do this or that and we often let those impulses or desires control us. Entering into a practice of self-denial helps strengthen us to control our disordered tendencies rather than being controlled by them. And this applies to much more than just food and drink. It applies to many things in life including our life of virtue, especially our charity.
Mercy is all about charity. It’s about love in the way God wants us to love. It’s about being free to let love consume us and take us over so that, in the end, all we want to do is love. This can be a hard practice to establish in our lives but is the source of our joy and fulfillment.
Mercy, in particular, is an act of love that, in a sense, is not deserved by another. It’s a free gift that is given purely from the motivation of love. And this is exactly the love God gives us. God’s love is all mercy. And if we want to receive that mercy then we also have to give it. And if we want to give it we need to properly dispose ourselves to giving mercy. This is accomplished, in part, by our little acts of self-denial.
So make this a great Lent, but don’t get stuck thinking that the Lenten sacrifices are burdensome. They are one essential piece of the pathway to the life God wants to bestow upon us.
The World or Your Soul?
Thursday after Ash Wednesday
“What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” Luke 9:25
Many people dream of winning the lottery. And often times, the dream is for many millions of dollars. Imagine what you would do if you became an instant millionaire or an instant billionaire. Do you find yourself daydreaming about this?
If so, perhaps the question above is a good one to ponder. What good is it if you win the biggest lottery in history, become the wealthiest person on the face of the Earth, but lack the grace of God in your life and lack faith? Would you trade your faith for being exceptionally wealthy and gaining the whole world? Many people probably would or else Jesus would not have asked this question.
Very often in life we have the wrong priorities. We seek instant satisfaction and gratification over eternal fulfillment. It’s hard for many people to live with an eternal perspective.
Some may say, “Well, I choose both! I want the whole world and the salvation of my soul!” But Jesus’ question presupposes that we cannot have both. We must pick which one we choose to pursue. Choosing a life of faith and the salvation of our souls requires that we let go of many things in this world. Even if God were to bless us with much in this world, we must strive to live in such a way that we are ready and willing to “give it up” if it were beneficial to our eternal salvation, or the salvation of others. This is hard to do and requires a very deep love of God. It requires that we are convinced, on the deepest level, that the pursuit of holiness is more important than anything else.
Reflect, today, upon this profound question from Jesus. Know that He poses it to you. How do you respond? Do not hesitate to make God and His abundant mercy the central focus of your life. Lent is one of the best times of the year to seriously look at the most fundamental desire and goal of your heart. Choose Him above all else and you will be eternally grateful you did.
Lord, as we enter into this Lenten season, give me the grace I need to look at my priorities. Help me to honestly discern that which is the most fundamental and central driving motivation of my life. Help me to choose You above all else so that You will help everything in my life to become ordered in accord with Your holy will. Jesus, I trust in You.
A Day to Fast and Abstain
Friday after Ash Wednesday
“The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” Mt. 9:15
Fridays in Lent…are you ready for them? Every Friday in Lent is a day of abstinence from meat. So be sure to embrace this little sacrifice today in union with our entire Church. What a blessing it is to offer sacrifice as an entire Church!
Fridays in Lent (and, in fact, throughout the year) are also days in which the Church asks us to do some form of penance. Abstinence from meat certainly falls into that category, unless you dislike meat and love fish. Then these regulations are not much of a sacrifice for you. The most important thing to understand about Fridays in Lent is that they should be a day of sacrifice. Jesus offered the ultimate sacrifice on a Friday and endured the most excruciating pain for the atonement of our sins. We should not hesitate to offer our own sacrifice and to strive to spiritually unite that sacrifice to Christ’s. Why would we do that?
At the heart of the answer to that question is a basic understanding of redemption from sin. It’s important to understand the unique and profound teaching of our Catholic Church on this. As Catholics, we do share a common belief with other Christians throughout the world that Jesus is the one and only Savior of the world. The only way to Heaven is through the redemption won by His Cross. In a sense, Jesus “paid the price” of death for our sins. He took on our punishment.
But with that said, we must understand our role and responsibility in receiving this priceless gift. It’s not simply a gift that God offers by saying, “OK, I paid the price, now you’re completely off the hook.” No, we believe He says something more like this, “I have opened the door to salvation through my suffering and death. Now I invite you to enter that door with me and unite your own sufferings with mine so that my sufferings, united with yours, will bring you to salvation and freedom from sin.” So, in a sense, we are not “off the hook;” rather, we now have a way to freedom and salvation by uniting our lives, sufferings and sins to the Cross of Christ. As Catholics, we understand that salvation came at a price and that the price was not only the death of Jesus, it’s also our willing participation in His suffering and death. This is the way that His Sacrifice transforms our particular sins.
Fridays in Lent are days in which we are especially invited to unite ourselves, voluntarily and freely, with the Sacrifice of Jesus. His Sacrifice required of Him great selflessness and self-denial. The small acts of fasting, abstinence and other forms of self-denial you choose, dispose your will to be more conformed to Christ’s so as to be able to more completely unite yourself with Him, receiving the grace of salvation.
Reflect, today, upon the small sacrifices you are called to make this Lent and, especially, on Fridays in Lent. Make the choice to be sacrificial today and you will discover that it is the best way to enter into a deeper union with the Savior of the World.
Lord, I choose, this day, to become one with You in Your suffering and death. I offer You my suffering and my sin. Please forgive my sin and allow my suffering, especially that which results from my sin, to be transformed by Your own suffering so that I can share in the joy of Your Resurrection. May the small sacrifices and acts of self-denial I offer You become a source of my deeper union with You. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Divine Physician “Needs” the Sick
Saturday after Ash Wednesday
“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” Luke 5:31-32
What would a doctor do without patients? What if no one were sick? The poor doctor would be out of business. Therefore, in a sense, it’s fair to say that a doctor needs the sick in order to fulfill his role.
The same could be said of Jesus. He is the Savior of the World. But what if there were no sinners? Then Jesus’ death would have been in vain and His mercy would not be necessary. Therefore, in a sense, we can conclude that Jesus, as the Savior of the World, needs sinners. He needs those who have turned away from Him, violated the Divine Law, violated their own dignity, violated the dignity of others and acted in a selfish and sinful way. Jesus needs sinners. Why? Because Jesus is the Savior, and a Savior needs to save. A Savior needs those who need to be saved in order to save! Got that?
This is important to understand because, when we do, we will suddenly realize that coming to Jesus, with the filth of our sin, brings great joy to His Heart. It brings joy because He is able to fulfill the mission given Him by the Father, exercising His mercy as the one and only Savior.
Allow Jesus to fulfill His mission! Let Him offer mercy to you! You do this by admitting your need for mercy. You do this by coming to Him in a vulnerable and sinful state, unworthy of mercy and worthy only of eternal damnation. Coming to Jesus in this way allows Him to fulfill the mission given Him by the Father. It allows Him to manifest, in a concrete way, His Heart of abundant mercy. Jesus “needs” you to fulfill His mission. Give Him this gift and let Him be your merciful Savior.
Reflect, today, upon the mercy of God from a new perspective. Look at it from the perspective of Jesus as the Divine Physician who desires to fulfill His healing mission. Realize that He needs you in order to fulfill His mission. He needs you to admit your sin and be open to His healing. In so doing, you allow the gates of mercy to pour forth in abundance in our day and age.
Dear Savior and Divine Physician, I thank You for coming to save and heal. I thank You for Your burning desire to manifest Your mercy in my life. Please humble me so that I may be open to Your healing touch and, through this gift of salvation, I allow You to manifest Your Divine Mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
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